Mission to Planet Earth (NASA)

views updated

Mission to Planet Earth (NASA)

The Mission to Planet Earth (MTPE), now officially called the Earth Science Enterprise (ESE), is a program of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) of the U.S. government. The mission is to use spacecraft and space technology to provide a comprehensive scientific study of the earth's living systems as viewed from space. Using satellites with precise measuring equipment, the mission will provide information about weather patterns, climate , oceans, coastlines, surface activity, atmospheric conditions, natural disasters, pollution , and hundreds of other measurements. The goals of the program, according to NASA, are to find out how the living system of the earth is changing, and to determine the causes and consequences of this change. NASA also has the goal of using the program's results to develop a "predictive capability" for climate, weather, and natural hazards. Finally, the program has an end-to-end strategy of performing studies and gathering data as well as making the findings readily available to the public and scientific community. Other countries are also taking part in the mission, including Canada, Japan, Russia, and many major European countries, providing funding and scientific studies.

MTPE was initiated by President George Bush in 1989, on the recommendation of the National Research Council . At first, NASA and the U.S. government were ambitious about the plan to study the earth from space, and proposed a budget of $35 billion for its first 15 years. The original concept of the program was to build a huge observatory that would orbit and monitor the earth. The program was scaled down during budget battles in the early 1990s and received about $8 billion for its first decade of operation. The scientific concept of the program was changed as well due to the revised budget; MTPE will utilize up to 18 small satellites that will monitor the earth from space, called the Earth Observing System, and collect data that will be coordinated by computers. In 1998 NASA changed the name of MTPE to the Earth Science Enterprise.

By 2002, the program had several satellites and measuring instruments in space. The Earth Resources Observation System (EROS) has mapped cities and recorded urban growth and habitat destruction. The Geostationary Environmental Satellite (GOES) has tracked hurricanes and weather patterns. The Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite was launched in 1991 to study the ozone layer. In 1996 a Japanese satellite carried NASA instruments to study global wind patterns, and in 1997 a joint United States/Japanese satellite was launched to study how tropical rainfall affects the world's climate. In April 1999, NASA launched the Landsat 7 satellite to map and study environmental changes on the earth's surface, including mapping the world's forest canopy. In November 2000 a new generation of satellite was launched, the EO-1, which was only one-seventh the size of the Landsat satellites. The new satellite had sophisticated instruments, some of which can measure parameters such as the earth's gravity field. This measurement may help scientists better understand ocean currents and heat movement between the poles. Other governmental departments besides NASA are also contributing to the project. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Polar-orbiting Operational Environmental Satellite is monitoring factors such as global vegetation, ocean currents, ice warming, weather patterns, the ozone layer, and solar storms. The MTPE was projected to consist of 25 measuring instruments on 10 satellites by 2002, depending on launch schedules and other factors.

NASA plans to make all of the data from MTPE satellites available to the public on computers. The information will be stored in NASA's Earth Observing System Data and Information System (EOSDIS). NASA estimates that MTPE satellites will send enough data back to Earth during its first 15 years of operation to fill nearly 6.5 million books per day. The management of this information will be as demanding a project as sending the satellites to space, and users will be able access the data from the Internet, CDROMs, tapes, microfiche, and photographs. By 2002 MTPE data was available via the Internet, including live broadcasts of the earth from satellites. Eventual users of MTPE data may include atmospheric scientists studying the ozone layer, meteorologists predicting weather changes, ecologists monitoring tropical rain forests, scholars performing environmental research, and many others interested in environmental patterns and problems.

[Douglas Dupler ]



Burrows, William E. This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age. New York: Random House, 1998.

Walter, William. Space Age. New York: Random House, 1992.


Lawler, Andrew. "Climate Warms a Bit for NASA Mission" Science, March 28, 1997, 1870.

Stevens, William K. "NASA Readies a 'Mission to Planet Earth.'" New York Times, February 17, 1998, B9.


Earth Observing System Project Office. [cited July 2002]. <http://www.eos.nasa.gov>.

Earth Science Enterprise Home Page. [cited July 2002]. <http://www.earth.nasa.gov>.

About this article

Mission to Planet Earth (NASA)

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article